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Be like Galarraga: Don't get upset about the officials

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The baseball world is, justifiably, in a state of apoplexy because first-base umpire Jim Joyce’s blown safe call at first base with two outs in the ninth denied on June 2 a perfect game to Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga.

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This isn’t the greatest angle to see Joyce’s missed call, but it’s the best shot of a video that doesn’t get pulled for a terms-of-use violation. Plus, you can “hear” the silent shock of the crowd.

This isn’t the spot where you’re going to read an argument over whether Major League Baseball should join the rest of civilized society and institute some form of instant replay (though it should). This is where you’re going to read about the lesson Armando Galarraga has learned, given his reaction to the play: That nothing good comes from worrying and gnashing your teeth over the officials.

When I coach, I tell players all the time that I’m the only one who gets to worry about the referees — and that I won’t. (Exception: when it looks like someone is going to get hurt because of overly rough play. Then I pull the ref aside during a timeout and talk about it.) I tell kids that if you’re blaming the refs or reacting to every call, you’re not going to be on your game.

This has been particularly true with the more talented players. I’ve seen kids who dominate their opposition suddenly look human because they were so busy sulking over a referee’s call. No matter who the player is, however, I’ve never hesitated to bench someone who was worrying more about what the ref was going to do, rather than what the opposing team was going to do.

I extend that message into not blaming teammates or anyone outside yourself for something going wrong. Ask my 7-year-old, whom I chastised after he came back to the bench blaming bad pitches for striking out during coach-pitch baseball. I pointed out, with the double barrels of coach and father lecturing, that he got the same pitches as everyone else, and that if he’s ever going to get better as a baseball player, he had better not blame other people when he is unsuccessful. He seemed a little shocked by that verbal slap to the face.

My message is not that officials never make mistakes, or that your teammates never make mistakes. But in youth sports, if you allow a kid to focus his or her frustrations outward, they’re never going to develop the mindset that maybe they should improve themselves — thus, perhaps, mitigating the effects of a bad call or a teammate’s foul-up.

I also want kids to learn that mistakes happen. If they can’t forgive others for them, they also might not forgive themselves. And sometimes, bad stuff just happens. You have to learn to deal with it quickly and move on.

Fortunately, that is what Armando Galarraga is doing. When Joyce made his call, Galarraga left the arguing to his manager. On June 3, in an afternoon game against the same Cleveland Indians he faced the night before, Galarraga delivered the lineup card to Joyce, this day’s home-plate umpire. And Galarraga smiled with Joyce. Sure, it’s easier for Galarraga to laugh knowing Joyce admitted to blowing the call, and says he feels awful about it. But even though Joyce probably killed Galarraga’s only chance to throw a rare perfect game, the pitcher isn’t letting it define him. I bet he, and Joyce, will be the better for it.

Contrast that with the bitter ex-Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas and the cantankerous ump Bruce Froemming, arguing since 1972 over a ball-four call Pappas said ruined his only chance for a perfect game (though he still got the no-hitter).

Hearing these angry coots still arguing nearly 40 years later is evidence of how much worrying about the officials can eat you up inside, and define your play on the field more than your actual play on the field.

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